A coalition of environmental groups that challenged AquaBounty in federal court is happy federal approval is needed before the company can grow genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon at its new facility in Rollo Bay.

The company was granted federal and provincial approval to grow GM fish at its current building in Bay Fortune. However, the environmental coalition’s court case was successful in having the court say AquaBounty needs new federal approval if it switches locations.

Construction has already started on the Rollo Bay facility after receiving provincial approval in mid-June, and the company says it plans to grow 250 metric tonnes of GM fish.

“We finally have some clarity after our court case about how the regulation of this GM fish is supposed to work and it’s gratifying to see the government will be applying the law strictly,” says Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society (LOS), a member of the environmental coalition.

The confirmation comes in response to two separate letters from Canadian environmental organizations calling on the current ministers of Environment and Climate Change (ECCC), Catherine McKenna, and Health, Jane Philpott, to ensure AquaBounty complies with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

“CEPA is one of Canada’s most important laws protecting the environment and biodiversity from risks posed by toxic substances and GM organisms,” says Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell. “We hope the ministers use every tool available to them to ensure their decision is based on a thorough scientific assessment.”

In 2013, experts from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) conducted a scientific risk assessment of AquaBounty’s proposal to commercially manufacture GM salmon eggs at its Fortune facility and send them to mature in Panama. AquaBounty is restricted to using its GM salmon only at its current facility because then-ministers Rona Ambrose and Leona Aglukkaq waived the requirement for the company to provide data on the toxicity and invasiveness of this GM organism.

Member groups of the environmental coalition are also urging the ministers to ensure there are meaningful opportunities for public consultation as part of any new risk assessment process.